At even the smallest businesses, most employees require a computer to do some or even all of their work. Because it's perhaps one of your most important company tools, as a small business owner, it pays for you to understand how a computer works in the most basic sense so you can make more informed decisions when it comes time to get a machine repaired, upgraded, or replaced.
From an entry-level laptop to a high-end PC, here are some of the critical components you'll find in every machine.
The motherboard is the main printed circuit board in charge of coordinating everything that happens in your computer. From routing power to managing processes, the motherboard makes sure that all the other parts can connect; every other component is connected to the motherboard, whether directly, as in the case of the central processing unit (CPU), or attached via wires, like the hard drive.
The central processing unit (CPU)—or, more simply, the processor—is the brains of the operation, giving your computer the processing power required to perform the functions you need to run your business. The core of the processor is the part that receives instructions and performs calculations; a processor can have a single core or multiple cores. The more cores a processor has, the faster it can process information. In addition, a computer can have multiple processors to further maximize processing power. If you do processing-intensive work like video editing or programming, it makes sense to invest some of your tech budget in a multi-core processor or multiple processors so you can better accomplish your work without slowing your computer down.
Random Access Memory (RAM) is the computer's short-term, working memory. The computer places data in the RAM when a program is currently using it to work on a task. Once you finish, the data is deleted from the RAM so the memory is available for other tasks. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can have running at once and the faster the computer will respond. When shopping for RAM, check to see what the maximum amount is that your motherboard and processor can support—RAM can only work to those limits.
Unlike RAM, the hard drive is for permanent data storage. This is also where your operating system and all your software applications are stored. So, in addition to having space for files, you want to make sure your hard drive has space available for your operating system and software to operate. In addition to storage size, the storage speed of the hard drive will affect computer performance by impacting how quickly the computer can find and open files.
Hard drives come in two types: Solid state drives and hard disk drives. Solid-state drives, sometimes called flash drives, are smaller, lighter, and faster than hard disk drives, but they're more expensive. Hard disk drives are less expensive than solid-state drives but contain mechanical parts, which can affect the speed at which the computer can access data and thus your performance. Each is available in a variety of sizes and can be combined within one computer to provide a combination of speed and storage capacity. Solid-state drives are what make possible thin and light PCs, tablets, and 2-in-1s (PC and tablet combined).
Graphics Processing Unit
Now that all of your data and files are working together smoothly, a graphics processing unit will get them from the machine to your monitor. The graphics processing unit is completely dedicated to outputting images to your screen, with high-end units required for more graphically intense uses. To save space, laptops generally use graphics processors that are integrated within the CPU, while PCs generally use a discrete graphics card that plugs into the motherboard.
Computer components can generate heat while they work, so some computers require a cooling system to get rid of the excess heat before it can damage the sensitive parts. Most desktops use a combination of case design and fans to draw cool air in and push hot air out. High-end machines may require multiple fans or even dedicated CPU coolers. Due to their design, specialized components, and lower power consumption, ultra-compact laptops and thin devices like tablets don't require a fan.
Last but not least, you need a power supply to deliver electricity to the rest of the components and any attachments. In a laptop or other mobile device, the power supply will also connect to an internal battery.
A keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, and other attachments won't affect the performance of a computer, but they do affect the performance of the user. These external components often come down to personal preference, so it's worth spending some time to find the peripherals that are right for the individual users in your company.
Now that you have a working knowledge of computer terminology and how the components all work together, you can begin your search for the computers that will help your small business thrive.